Economist 12/31/15

  1. Over the past two years, as its relations with the West have soured, Russia has proclaimed a “pivot to the East”. Officials envisioned China replacing Western capital markets and hoovering up Russian exports of oil, minerals and food.The Russian recession and China’s slowdown have put a damper on grand plans. With oil prices low and the rouble weak, bilateral trade shrank by around 30% in the first half of 2015.The clash with the West over Ukraine turned Russia’s focus eastward again. In May 2014, two months after the annexation of Crimea, Mr Putin met Mr Xi and announced a 30-year, $400 billion gas deal, ending a decade of talks. Russia’s rail monopoly awarded a tender to the state-controlled China Railway Group to design a high-speed train between Moscow and Kazan.But it has not exactly been a gold rush. Western sanctions have made Chinese lenders cautious about Russian firms.Russia, meanwhile, frets about being exploited.Chinese businessmen complain about restrictions on hiring foreign labourers.
  2. AMERICA incarcerates people awaiting trial at triple the world average. Every day, roughly 500,000 people who have been convicted of no crime sit in county jails. Some are there because a judge determined they were too dangerous to return to the streets. But the vast majority end up behind bars because they could not afford to post “bail”, a returnable payment designed to ensure they’ll show up for their court dates.Few people outside the rather brazen bail-bond industry have nice things to say about the present system. The American Bar Association urges judges to ask for cash bail “only when no other less restrictive condition of release will reasonably ensure the defendant’s appearance in court”. Bail systems like the one being challenged in California also have the perverse effect of encouraging some innocent defendants to falsely claim guilt in a plea bargain.
  3. Most victims of war and terrorism in the Middle East are Muslims, since they are by far the majority of the population. But the tiny Christian minority often feels singled out.Overall, the proportion of Middle Easterners who are Christian has dropped from 14% in 1910 to 4% today.Many Christians feel more at home in the West and have the means to get there. Some are leaving because of the general atmosphere of violence and economic malaise. Others worry about persecution.The Christians who remain tend to have fewer babies than their Muslim neighbours, according to the Pew Research Centre. Regional data are unreliable, but in Egypt the fertility rate for Muslims is 2.7; for Christians it is 1.9.Mosul, in northern Iraq, was once home to tens of thousands of Christians. Perceived as supporting the Americans, they were targeted by insurgents after the invasion.In the decades before the Arab spring, many Christian leaders lent their support to authoritarian rulers in return for the protection of Christians—and their own lofty status. But the deals broke down when the dictators fell or wobbled.
  4. Christian leaders have often supported whichever strongman is in power. The late Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic church, the largest in the Middle East, backed Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former dictator.Yet the Copts have gained little from their leaders’ loyalty. Mr Mubarak stood by as relations between Christians and Muslims deteriorated and sectarian violence increased. Even in Lebanon, where Christians were once a majority and still hold considerable power, their political leaders have disappointed. Under the country’s unique system, government posts are shared out based on sect.Oddly enough it is the Gulf, home to the most conservative brand of Islam, which has welcomed the largest number of Christians recently, though not from Iraq or Syria.Saudi Arabia, for example, bans the practice of Christianity (though many Christians worship in private). The UAE restricts proselytisation, but has otherwise supported its Christians.
  5. After years of squabbles and delays, development of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the Gobi desert, by far Mongolia’s biggest investment project, seems to be back on track with the signing on December 15th of a new financing package worth $4.4 billion.The mine, boasting a copper deposit that is among the world’s biggest and purest, is controlled by Rio Tinto, a British-Australian firm, with the Mongolian government holding a 34% stake.But four-fifths of the project’s value may lie underground.This week’s financing deal, which involves 15 commercial banks and the American, Canadian and Australian export-credit agencies, will allow work to begin on the underground mining phase.Mongolia is not out of the woods yet. Hard currency remains in short supply, inflation is stubbornly high and the budget deficit is way above the target of 2% of GDP, despite tax rises and cuts in public-sector pay. Above all, the country’s political turbulence is all but certain to continue.Mongolian People’s Party will appeal to Mongolians’ sense of nationalism over mining.

Economist 12/30/15

  1. China’s GDP per person is about one-seventh of America’s. But in 2014 Chinese gave 104 billion yuan ($16 billion) to charity, about one-hundredth of what Americans donated per person.Charitable giving is not yet a middle-class habit. Many people still feel awkward about it, despite their growing prosperity.The middle classes have worries too—that giving large amounts to charity may draw unwanted attention to their wealth. They do not want to fuel the envy of the have-nots or encourage tax collectors to pay them closer attention.Yuan Yuan, the organisation behind the plastic pandas.They are large, bear-shaped receptacles, designed to entice people to donate their unwanted garments to those in need. First deployed in 2012, there are now hundreds around Shanghai, often placed by entrances to apartment buildings. They swallowed about a million items of clothing last year.
  2. The China Philanthropy Research Institute estimates that fully 80% of donations by the wealthiest Chinese go to overseas charities. Many may well prefer to give to local causes, but regulations have hindered the development of philanthropy at home. To function as a not-for-profit organisation, charities must have a government partner, which entails the loss of their autonomy. It is also difficult for them to obtain tax breaks for their donors.
  3. AFTER sun and sand, the West Indies Test cricket team may be the best known symbol of the English-speaking Caribbean. From 1980 to 1995, the side was unbeaten in 29 consecutive series it played. Since June 2000 they have won just 14 Test matches and lost 81 against the top eight countries—a record so miserable that the team’s very survival is now in question. There is speculation that Trinidad and Tobago will leave the West Indies team and form its own. On November 4th a review by Caricom called the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), which runs the team, “obsolete” and recommended its dissolution.Globalisation is one culprit. In the 1980s, national Test teams were seen as the pinnacle of the sport. But the advent of for-profit domestic club leagues playing shorter Twenty20 (T20) games, particularly the Indian Premier League (IPL), has lured players away from Test cricket.Six of the Windies’ leading players are now in Australia—competing for domestic T20 clubs rather than their Test side.The WICB is guilty of self-inflicted wounds.Coaches routinely disagree with the WICB over the selection of players. And its Byzantine structure has made even simple tasks, like scheduling matches, difficult.
  4. On December 27th an assembly of the far-left Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP) party deciding whether to back Catalonia’s acting president, Artur Mas, split the vote evenly—1,515 on each side. The deadlock means that, three months after elections, Mr Mas still cannot form a government to carry out his programme of moving steadily towards secession from Spain.The Catalan impasse is part of a wider Spanish gridlock. Elections on December 20th splintered the political landscape. The duopoly of the conservative People’s Party (PP) of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the opposition Socialists (PSOE), who have traded turns in power for the past 33 years, has been upended. The insurgent left-wing Podemos and liberal Ciudadanos parties grabbed a third of the parliamentary seats between them, making a coalition or minority government a necessity.
  5. Following mandatory safety requirements introduced on December 21st. More than 45,000 people registered their personal UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in the first few days.Registration, which applies only to recreational UAVs, costs $5 (waived for those registering before January 21st) and is good for three years. Existing drone-owners and aeromodellers have until February 19th to comply.The directive makes it an offense for anyone to fly a UAV above 400 feet (122 metres) and within five miles (8km) of an airport, unless special permission is received from the airport tower.Reports of recreational UAVs interfering with regular air traffic have been running at over 100 a month of late.Though none has to date, the risk of a drone being ingested by a jetliner engine and causing a fatal accident is all too real. Bird strikes are bad enough. One of the most feared birds encountered by aircraft is the common Canada goose, weighing anything up to 6kg.Over the past year, American pilots have reported some 700 close encounters with UAVs of one sort or another. That pales almost into insignificance when compared with the 13,700 bird strikes in America last year.The biggest aviation threat of all comes when passenger planes are taking off or landing, or when helicopters have to operate close to the ground while fighting fires, rescuing accident casualities or pursuing criminals.Unfortunately, a drone’s small size makes it difficult for a pilot to spot visually. Its little electric motor makes it hard to detect acoustically. And being made mostly of plastic, it is practically invisible to radar.Drones are an order of magnitude more difficult for pilots to notice.

Economist 12/29/15

  1. LAST month Kai Krause, a computer-graphics guru, caused a stir with a map entitled “The True Size of Africa”, which showed the outlines of other countries crammed into the outline of the African continent. Most people do not realise how much the ubiquitous Mercator projection distorts the relative sizes of countries.A sphere cannot be represented on a flat plane without distortion, which means all map projections distort in one way or another.Gerardus Mercator’s projection, published in 1569, was immediately useful because it depicts a line of constant bearing as a straight line, which is handy for marine navigation. The drawback is that it distorts the shapes and areas of large land masses, and the distortion gets progressively worse as you get closer to the poles. (Africa looks about the same size as Greenland under the Mercator projection, for example, even though it is in fact 14 times bigger.)
  2. IT SEEMS a country’s spending reflects its national stereotypes, according to household expenditure data compiled by Eurostat: Russians splash 8% of their money on booze and cigarettes—far more than most rich countries—while fun-loving Australians spend a tenth of theirs on recreation, and bookish South Koreans splurge more than most on education. Some of the differences are accounted for by economics. Richer places like America and Australia, where household expenditure is around $30,000 per person, will tend to spend a smaller share of their costs on food than Mexico and Russia, where average spending is around $6,000. And politics plays a part too. Predominantly private health care in America eats up over a fifth of each household’s budget, whereas the European Union, where public health care is common, only spends 4% on it. In Russia, government-subsidised housing and heating make living cheaper, and this means money is left over for the finer things in life.
  3. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) suddenly announced that it would no longer hold the Swiss franc at a fixed exchange rate with the euro, there was panic. The franc soared. On Wednesday one euro was worth 1.2 Swiss francs; at one point on Thursday its value had fallen to just 0.85 francs.The SNB introduced the exchange-rate peg in 2011, while financial markets around the world were in turmoil. Investors consider the Swiss franc as a “safe haven” asset, along with American government bonds: buy them and you know your money will not be at risk.An expensive franc hurts Switzerland because the economy is heavily reliant on selling things abroad: exports of goods and services are worth over 70% of GDP.To bring down the franc’s value, the SNB created new francs and used them to buy euros. Increasing the supply of francs relative to euros on foreign-exchange markets caused the franc’s value to 2014 the SNB had amassed about $480 billion-worth of foreign currency, a sum equal to about 70% of Swiss GDP.
  4. First, many Swiss are angry that the SNB has built up such large foreign-exchange reserves. Printing all those francs, they say, will eventually lead to hyperinflation. Those fears are probably unfounded: Swiss inflation is too low, not too high. But it is a hot political issue.Second, the SNB risked irritating its critics even more, thanks to something that is happening this Thursday: many expect the European Central Bank to introduce “quantitative easing”. This entails the creation of money to buy the government debt of euro-zone countries. That will push down the value of the euro, which might have required the SNB to print lots more francs to maintain the cap.
  5. THE bronze statue of a teenage “comfort woman” in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is intended as a daily rebuke to the Japanese embassy opposite. The figure represents one of many thousands of Korean women who were forced to serve in wartime military brothels catering to imperial Japanese soldiers. Citizens’ groups paid for the figure to be erected in 2011 when relations between Japan and South Korea were at a nadir.Yet now the statue is meant to move elsewhere as part of a landmark agreement struck between South Korea and Japan on December 28th to try to settle their dispute over comfort women once and for all—and transform dangerously strained relations.Of former sex slaves who have come forward in South Korea, only 46 survive. Under the deal, South Korea will set up a fund for them into which the Japanese government will pay $8.3m for their medical and nursing care. The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has expressed “sincere apologies and remorse” for the women’s suffering, which was appalling.It is a big change for Mr Abe, who has in the past questioned whether the comfort women were coerced at all. But he seems to have found what the two countries’ foreign ministers called a “final and irrevocable” resolution to an issue that has poisoned the relationship for years.

Economist 12/28/15

  1. ON THE face of things, the worst is over for Ukraine. A ceasefire seems to be holding in the war that has left forces backed by Russia in control of much of the east of the country. The IMF has found a way to keep providing Ukraine with a financial lifeline, side-stepping a dispute with Russia that had threatened to sever it.Yet the hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, which has lost 70% of its value over the past two years, is sliding again; government-bond yields are rising. Politicians in Kiev are busier brawling (at times physically) than fixing the country’s problems.The government’s finances also look much more healthy. That is largely thanks to Ukraine’s creditors. In August most of them agreed to a restructuring that wiped 20% off its foreign debt. That paved the way for an IMF rescue. It has lent $11 billion to Ukraine since the beginning of 2014, and plans to lend another $11 billion by 2019.Dramatic spending cuts have also helped right the government’s finances. The budget is in surplus so far for 2015.Investment is needed to spur exports. In the past three years capital spending has fallen by 40%. It shrank yet again in the third quarter.Efforts to tackle corruption are going less well. No prominent figures from prior regimes have been jailed.Even senior officials are paid a measly $300 a month, making corruption especially hard to resist ($50,000 a month is said to be the going rate for a pliable one).
  2. Germany is straining to cope with the 1m refugees who have arrived in the country this year, and for the most part it is managing. But in Germany’s federal system, the 16 regional states must integrate refugees once federal officials have fingerprinted them. Berlin, with an estimated 90,000 refugees this year in a population of 3.5m, is the least competent. It is deep in debt and receives subsidies from other states.
  3. In 2015 several of the big democracies that chose new leaders or returned old ones to power would have seen different outcomes had the same votes been counted using a different electoral method.In a winner-take-all district-based method, like that of America, such lopsided provincial victories “waste” votes. Had Argentina used an American-style electoral college, where senators and congressmen cast their votes for the candidate who comes first in their state, Mr Scioli would have won comfortably despite losing the popular vote.Both Britain and Canada, the world’s two biggest “Westminster-style” democracies, also held elections this year. Advocates of this system—a parliament with single-member, winner-take-all districts—argue that it produces stable majority governments; critics argue that it unfairly shuts out smaller parties.
  4. Turkey has tried to balance the goals of inclusion and governmental stability by using a proportional-representation system that denies seats to parties that win less than 10% of the national vote. That threshold, the highest in the world, has helped Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AK) win successive majorities since 2002, and brought them tantalisingly close to the “super-majority” of 367 seats.Frustrated by their inability to change the constitution at will, AK leaders have blamed Turkey’s electoral system and suggested shrinking its districts or moving to a Westminster method.espite the differences in their voting systems, the four countries’ elections all shared a common desirable outcome: undisputed control of executive authority by the winners, and an opposition with meaningful power to resist overreach.
  5. HARDLY had the group of two dozen winsome North Korean musicians arrived in Beijing, than they were on a flight back home. Their first ever overseas concert, set for December 12th at the National Centre for the Performing Arts.North Korea’s state news agency removed its gushing coverage of the all-female band’s tour from its website. Chinese censors swiftly erased news of the cancellation from their country’s social media.Moranbong is a favourite of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who is said to have set it up himself three years ago as a “standard-bearer on the ideological and cultural front”. Its five lead singers, who expose an unusual amount of leg for such a puritanical country.Xinhua, a Chinese state-run news agency, said that the band’s tour had been called off because of “communication issues”.

Economist 12/24/15

  1. This approach reflected the first post-war phase in the German treatment of Hitler’s legacy. The idea was to suppress anything that might tempt the Germans to fall back under his spell. The Allies and the new German government followed a policy of “de-nazification”, under which known Nazis were banned from important positions.In the late 1940s and 1950s Germans avoided discussing Hitler. Many men were returning from captivity. Germans had been both perpetrators and victims, and had no words for their state of mind. Many were traumatised and could not bear to talk about their experiences.A new phase began in the 1960s, after the Israelis captured, tried and executed Adolf Eichmann, a leading Nazi. This made more details of the Holocaust public.Official Germany found two responses. East Germany adopted the fiction that its righteous communists had resisted the “fascists” all along. In effect, it never reckoned with the past. But West Germany accepted its guilt and atoned publicly. It became a pacifist society, often called “post-heroic” in contrast to the Allies’ warrior cultures. It also became “post-national”: West Germans rarely flew their flag and barely whispered their anthem at sporting events.
  2. But starting in the 1970s a pent-up fascination with Hitler began to re-emerge. Two biographies and a documentary came out, and in 1979 Germany aired “Holocaust”, an American television series.After reunification in 1990—the formal end of the post-war era—the German public became ravenous for more research.For young Germans the Führer has thus receded far enough into the past to seem outlandish and weird rather than potentially seductive.One by one, post-war taboos connected to Hitler are vanishing. Flag-waving is one. A breakthrough occurred in 2006, when Germany hosted the football World Cup. For the first time since the war the black-red-and-gold came out everywhere, draping balconies, prams, cars and bikinis. But so did the flags of the visiting countries, and Germany turned into one big street party. Hosts and visitors perceived it as nothing but fun.
  3. In a poll by YouGov this year, Germans were asked what person or thing they associate with Germany. They named Volkswagen first (awkwardly, given subsequent revelations of its cheating). Then came Goethe and Angela Merkel, the chancellor, next the anthem, the national football team and Willy Brandt, a former chancellor. Hitler ranked a distant seventh at 25%. In the same poll 70% of Germans said they were proud of their country. About as many thought that Germany was a model of tolerance and democracy, and that it was time to stop feeling guilt and shame.And yet 75% also said that Hitler’s crimes mean Germany still cannot be a “normal” country and must play a “special international role”. This means that many Germans somehow combine both pride and penance.In contrast to the French, British and Americans, Germans worry a lot about surveillance by governments, whether foreign or German. The anxiety stems from memories of Hitler’s Gestapo.There is also a wide consensus that Germany has a special responsibility towards Israel. Pacifism runs through all mainstream political parties.
  4. Domestic life is governed by Germany’s post-war constitution, which was adopted in 1949 as a direct rejoinder to Hitler’s worldview and has become a source of patriotism today. Its first article stipulates that “human dignity shall be inviolable”. This translates into police practices that would count as touchy-feely in America, prisons that resemble low-budget hotels, and one of Europe’s most welcoming policies towards asylum-seekers.This does not mean that Hitler made today’s Germans boring. Official Germany still displays virtues the world considers German, such as punctuality and reliability.Many Germans adopt highly idiosyncratic lifestyles in everything from hobbies to sex. Contrary to stereotype, Germans are often secret eccentrics.
  5. Here is, however, an even more intimate domain in which Hitler continues to torment older and middle-aged Germans: their minds. One generation, defined roughly as those born between 1928 and 1947, is called the Kriegskinder (“war children”). The other, born between 1955 and 1970 or so, consists of their children and is called the Kriegsenkel(“war grandchildren”).Much of what seems strange today about some older Germans has roots in these repressed memories, he says.Their children, the Kriegsenkel, have different problems. As they grew up, their parents were often emotionally frozen. The elders came out of the war in a sedated or numb state from which they never fully emerged.This impaired relations with their children, who, by intuiting what must never be said or what was omitted with a sigh, inherited their parents’s trauma.In recent years support groups have formed for the grandchildren of the war. Only about 40% of middle-aged Germans share such “transgenerational” trauma.As “Mein Kampf” loses its copyright, German society is more complex than ever. One in five Germans today has immigrant roots and thus no family link to Hitler’s time. Many of the young know little history and find Hitler alien and fascinating.

Economist 12/23/15

  1. With thousands of business schools, a good chunk of which offer a “global” or “international” slant on their MBAs, it can be difficult to differentiate one from another. Every school offering an international or globally-focused programme hopes to train top executives at multinational firms.But, as Mr Mangematin points out, there are more MBA graduates than seats in the c-suites of the best businesses. So he has a counterintuitive suggestion: at a time when everyone is globalising, business schools should narrow their focus in order to thrive.Though the packaging may be the same, courses’ content can change based on where business schools are located. The idea is not to go into ever-more specific niches—the “MBA in somethingThe Economist has previously explored—but to offer a general education with a hint of one’s surroundings. In that sense, what Mr Mangematin is suggesting is not as radical as it may seem.Students already choose to apply to Stanford, say, because they want to benefit from its proximity to the startup hubs in the San Francisco bay area.
  2. On December 18th more progress was made on the path to peace in Syria, as the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire and talks between the Syrian government and opposition in early January.The measure comes after months of negotiations between world powers, most notably America and Russia, which have been divided over the future of Syria. It is the first time the security council has endorsed a peace plan. And yet it is still far from clear that the agreement reached in New York will result in an end to the fighting.Many questions remain unanswered, the biggest of which concerns the fate of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s authoritarian president, who is opposed by a patchwork of moderate and radical rebel groups. Elections are to be held within 18 months of the start of talks, according to the resolution, and it has for the moment been left unclear whether Mr Assad would be allowed to run; his position in the interim is also unclear. But Russia, which has bombed his opponents, does not want him removed ahead of time.The ceasefire will not apply to the whole country. Attacks by outside powers on Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, the local al-Qaeda affiliate, will continue.
  3. FACE it, pets and travel don’t mix. The logistics of taking a pet on a trip can get very complex very quickly. First of all there are the legal complications.So animal loving jet-setters will be pleased to read that things are getting better for those wanting to travel with four-legged friends. There are a growing number of services designed to make travelling with dogs easier. Onesuch is BringFido“, a website and app that lists suitable accommodation in locations that users plan to visit. The site also helps with pet friendly airlines and provides advice or booking services for restaurants and the like. Another is a start-up called “WoofAdvisor“, which is basically a TripAdvisor for dogs.New hotels opened by both chains and boutiques are emphasising their pet friendliness. Some offer dedicated treatssuch as doggy room-service and canine massages.
  4. IN GERMANY, as in the rest of Europe, copyright expires seven decades after the author’s year of death. That applies even when the author is Adolf Hitler and the work is “Mein Kampf”. Since 1945, the state of Bavaria has owned the book’s German-language rights and has refused to allow its republication. German libraries stock old copies, and they can be bought and sold. But from January 1st no permission will be needed to reprint it.Mein Kampf” is a mix of autobiography and manifesto that Hitler began writing during a rather comfortable prison stay after his failed putsch of 1923. It was first published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926.But after 1933, when Hitler seized power, it became a bestseller.After the war it fell to the Americans to decide what to do about the book, because Hitler’s last private address, in Munich, was in their sector. The Third Reich was gone and the Federal Republic of Germany would not be born until 1949. So the Americans transferred the rights to the government of Bavaria. It banned printing of the book.

Economist 12/21/15

  1. Only 28 prisoners have been executed in America in 2015, the lowest number since 1991. Next, consider the dwindling rate of death sentences—most striking in Texas, which accounts for more than a third of all executions since (after a hiatus) the Supreme Court reinstated the practice in 1976.According to a tally by the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC), a lobby group, overall only 49 people were sentenced to death in America in 2015, the lowest total in modern records.The biggest reason, says Richard Dieter of the DPIC, is juries’ nervousness about imposing an irrevocable punishment. Behind that anxiety stands another, unwilling participant in the death-penalty story: the swelling, well-publicised cadre of death-row exonerees.In 2015 alone, six more prisoners have been freed from death row.
  2. Capital cases are “a huge drain on resources”, spiralling costs that—especially given juries’ growing reluctance to pass a death sentence anyway—have helped to change the calculus about when to pursue one, Mr Farren says. In 2011 a Californian study estimated that death-penalty trials cost the taxpayer an extra $1m a pop. Guilty verdicts mean lengthy and pricey appeals; death-row prisoners are often incarcerated in expensive isolation.Even when the appeals are exhausted, enacting a death sentence has become almost insuperably difficult—because of an outlandish cameo by the pharmaceutical industry. Obtaining small quantities of drugs for lethal injection, long the standard method, might seem an easy task in the world’s richest country; but export bans in Europe, American import rules and the decision by domestic firms to discontinue what were less-than-lucrative sales lines has strangled the supply.Of the 19 states to have repealed the death penalty, seven have done so in the past nine years. Others have imposed moratoriums, formal or de facto, including, in 2015, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Montana and Pennsylvania.
  3. AMERICA imprisons 2.2m people—more than any other country in both real and relative terms. About 4.4% of those prisoners, on any given day, are serving time while virtually bereft of human contact. The conditions in solitary confinement are grim: prisoners sit alone in 6-by-10 ft windowless cells for all but an hour or so a day, eating meals that are, themselves, punitive.A chorus of critics say that time in a “special housing unit” (or “SHU”) bringssevere mental and emotional harm to prisoners without making prisons any safer for inmates or staff.  New York’s rate of solitary confinement, at 8%, is nearly double the national average, and prisoners often stay in SHU for months or years. Some of those inmates are especially violent, segregated from the general prison population to avert further crimes. But many end up in solitary confinement for breaking everyday prison rules.
  4. All organisations make forecasts and pay attention to the forecasts of others. Yet the accuracy of much of this forecasting—maybe most—has not been determined.Yet when it comes to the forecasting that informs critical decisions, organisations routinely pay without demanding proper evidence of quality.One lesson: don’t overuse what statisticians call the “ignorance prior”, the tendency to say 50% whenever you feel you don’t even know enough to guess. You often do know enough.Another lesson: don’t fall in love with your first estimate. The best forecasters readily update their calls in light of new information. But they also avoid the opposite mistake of assuming this changes everything.
  5. SpaceX’s vehicle, one of its Falcon 9 rockets, was sent on its way from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 0129 GMT on December 22nd. This, in itself, was no big deal. Falcons have been travelling into orbit since 2008. What is new is that when the rocket’s first and second stages separated, and the second stage carried on ascending with its payload of 11 satellites, the first stage flipped itself over, re-lit its engines to reverse its course, and headed back to the ground. One reason missions to space are so expensive is that existing rockets are one-shot machines.The first stage of a Falcon 9 accounts for around 70% of its $54m price tag. SpaceX’s going rate for a satellite launch starts at around $60m, already the lowest in the industry, but reusable rockets would allow the company to go even lower.